Kraft laboring forward

He tries to stay hopeful about Patriots and CBA

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / January 19, 2011

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ATLANTA — Patriots owner Robert Kraft was at a meeting of NFL owners yesterday trying to make sure there will be a season to be played in the fall.

But from the look on his face, it wasn’t hard to see that Kraft still had his mind on the one that ended abruptly with a 28-21 loss to the Jets in the playoffs Sunday.

“I think Tommy [Brady] said it best: We’ve got this empty feeling because it went so fast,’’ Kraft said after the meeting concluded at the Gateway Marriott. “This team, I developed a real affection for.

“I think if anyone had said at the beginning of the year that we’d go 14-2 and get a bye, I don’t think there would have been any takers. To see the way it evolved and everyone put the team first, the coaching staff did a great job and we really got excited with this team and then it got yanked away from us.

“So great credit goes to the Jets and Rex Ryan and what they did. They earned it.’’

As to whether he was surprised that the Patriots offense — which performed at such a high level during the eight-game winning streak — struggled against the Jets, Kraft said, “The Jets just did a great job, so kudos to them.’’

At the same time, Kraft expressed hope for the future of the Patriots — whenever the 2011 season is played.

“The nice thing is we have a tremendous base to build on this year,’’ he said. “We didn’t have as good a base last year to build on. We had a lot more things we had to do. I’m excited about this team and I look forward to some fun years in the next few years.’’

Kraft expressed a little disappointment with some of the trash talking that went on between the Jets and Patriots in the build-up to the game.

“I don’t think that’s our style, but I guess it happens from time to time,’’ Kraft said.

First, Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie called Brady a few expletives. Then Patriots receiver Wes Welker dropped several foot references aimed at Ryan and his wife (as punishment, Welker was benched by the Patriots for a series Sunday).

And then Jets linebacker Bart Scott not-so-subtly threatened Welker.

Kraft wouldn’t comment on whether coach Bill Belichick discussed benching Welker with him.

Jets owner Woody Johnson didn’t seem bothered by the comments from his players.

“Those things happen,’’ Johnson said. “You’ve got high spirits on both sides of the equation. There were shots fired on both sides. That’s part of competitive sports.

“Ideally, you’d like to lessen it, but the emotion used to play the game of football is high. This is not for the faint of heart. If that’s the worse thing that happens for the rest of the year, I’ll be delighted.’’

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said there will be discussions about curbing some of the cross talk between teams.

“There’s always a little talk, particularly between rivals,’’ said Goodell. “I think there’s got to be respect amongst the people who play the game, coach the game, and most importantly for the game of football. And I want to make sure that’s respected throughout the league and it’s something we’re going to talk about in the offseason.’’

Goodell said fines would not be part of the discussion.

“No, I just want to see a respect for the game,’’ he said. “I understand the approach of different teams and I think that’s great. I think that’s healthy that there are different approaches and I respect the way people approach the game.

“But there is always a line that you don’t want to cross and we just have to make sure that we’ve defined that and we don’t cross that.’’

The league last week reminded playoff teams that any words spoken before games could be taken into account when assessing illegal physical contact on the field.

Goodell said he did not send the edict in response to some of the uncivil discourse going on in the country at large.

“No, I was focused entirely on the NFL and what we need to do to make sure that we continue to present the game the way our fans want and out of respect for the game,’’ Goodell said. “And that’s what our focus was.

“We have policies that are in place with respect to certain types of conduct and certain types of threats. We want the game played within the rules. And that’s what we enforce through our officiating department and through our football operations people.’’

As for the status of talks between the league and players’ union on a collective bargaining agreement (the current deal expires March 3), there hasn’t been much progress. In fact, Goodell and Jeff Pash, the league’s lead negotiator, were visibly frustrated over the lack of urgency from the union, which filed a collusion claim against the owners this week.

“There’s enough time to get a deal done if — if — there’s a serious ramping up of the intensity here and if there’s a shared commitment to reaching a negotiated solution,’’ Pash said. “If our focus is going to be on litigating, decertification, on meetings in Washington, on media events, it will be hard to get an agreement done.

“The notion that NFL owners are looking to shut down the NFL is nonsensical. But they can’t make an agreement themselves. They’ve got to have a negotiating partner who is willing to work as hard at it as they are and who’s seriously interested in compromise and in the hard work that goes into collective bargaining. It is not a glamorous process, that’s for sure.’’

Said Goodell, “There’s not enough communication. It’s not about the number of meetings you have, it’s about the quality of those meetings.’’

Despite reports of the union making some concessions on the split of revenue, several sources on the ownership side said there has been no movement on any major issue in several months.

Kraft, who just a few months ago expressed real hope for a new CBA by the end of the season, said there has been no progress.

“It’s the same,’’ he said. “I think there’s more litigation going on than negotiations, so that’s unfortunate. But I guess maybe that’s just the process.’’

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @greg_a_bedard.

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